Twitter is Faster than an Earthquake

August 23, 2011

There was a little bit of an earthquake on the East Coast today, and while I didn’t feel a thing, many of my office mates did. While we sort of attributed the vibrations to the office construction on the floor below ours, a friend of mine in Philadelphia IM’d me to tell me that she just had an earthquake, and at almost the same time, a friend of mine, in an office building two blocks away, called me to ask if I had felt an earthquake, and was disappointed that I hadn’t. My astute ability to piece two-and-two together led me to conclude that there might have been an earthquake, and my first reaction was to check Twitter to see if anyone else felt it.

Apparently, I was the only one who hadn’t.

The comic xkcd, in April 2010, predicted how, based on the speed of seismic waves and the speed of the Internet, the speed of Twitter would overtake and surpass the speed of the waves from an earthquake, and people would hear about them from Twitter before feeling the actual waves:

People outside this radius may get word of the quake via Twitter, IRC, or SMS before the shaking hits.

On my way home I was reading about the quake, and came upon a USA Today article that indicates that xkcd was correct:

One Twitter user, @allisonkilkenny, a blogger and contributing reporter for The Nation, wrote: “Weirdest moment: Seeing the people I’m following in DC tweet ‘earthquake’ seconds before I felt it here in NYC.”

It’s rather fascinating when you realize that for a lot of people their first stop for breaking news is Twitter. It may not be accurate, but you get it very quickly.

Update: Twitter produced an ad related to this.

(You can follow me on Twitter…I’ll be the one chiming in late if there’s an earthquake.)